January 2, 2016 • Life for Leaders
He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes;
my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is;
so I say, ‘Gone is my glory, and all that I had hoped for from the LORD.’
The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall!
My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, I quoted one of the most familiar and beloved passages in all of Scripture: “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (3:22-23). I quoted this passage as is usually done in Christian circles, out of context. Lamentations 3:22-23 generally stand by themselves, whether read or sung or emblazoned on posters in Christian bookstores.
Given how familiar these verses are, it’s ironic—and a bit sad—that most Christians are unaware of their original context. If we were to imagine the setting for Lamentations 3:22-23, we might come up with something like this: The Lord has blessed me beyond measure. God’s goodness is incomparable. I have received so much from the Lord I can’t begin to recount it. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases . . . .” Yet, in fact, the original setting for 3:22-23 is about as far from this as it could be.
This passage appears, after all, in a book called Lamentations. A lamentation is a cry of sorrow. It’s a passionate expression of grief. The book of Lamentations contains dozens of such expressions. In many of them, the cause of sorrow and grief is not just circumstance but God. In 3:16, for example, God has made the writer’s “teeth grind of gravel” and has made him “cower in grief.” This is relatively mild compared to what has come earlier in Lamentations 3, where God made the writer’s “flesh and skin waste away” (3:4), “walled [him] about so that [he] cannot escape (3:7), and tore the writer “to pieces” like a bear (3:10). The writer isn’t only complaining about the bad things happening in his life. He is specifically lamenting the fact that God is the ultimate cause of these things.
If you read Lamentations 3 up to verse 20, you might expect the writer to say something like Job once said, “I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” But stunningly, we read, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope.” Hope? Hope in the midst of such suffering? Hope when it seems that even God is against you? Yes, hope! Why? Because “the steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (3:22-23).
Thus, Lamentations 3:22-23 speak with a profound truth that we miss when we take them out of context. These verses don’t encourage us to rejoice in God’s faithfulness when we are feeling greatly blessed. Rather, they urge us to remember God’s mercies and faithfulness in the midst of suffering, even when our pain seems to come from God’s own hand.
As we begin a new year, we can have hope no matter our circumstances. Our hope lies not in our situation, not in the things we can control, not in an expectation of life getting better, but in the character of God. No matter what you’re going through today, no matter how discouraged or alone you feel, there is good news here for you. God’s love for you never ceases. God’s mercies in your life will not come to an end but will be new every morning. Great is God’s faithfulness to you. On this you can count. Because of this you can have hope.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
How does the context of Lamentations 3:22-23 make a difference in your understanding of the text?
Have you ever experienced God’s mercies and faithfulness in the midst of a time of suffering?
How would you like God to be faithful in your life today? And in the year ahead?
Gracious God, thank you for Lamentations 3:22-23. What an amazing recitation of your love and mercy! Thank you for being a God of steadfast love and never-ending mercies.
Thank you, Lord, for the context of this passage. Too often we miss it. Thank you for the encouragement to hope in you even in the midst of suffering and trial.
Lord, today I pray for all who are reading this devotion and feel as if the passage of Lamentations 3:1-20 describes their life. Help them, Lord, in their affliction. Help them call to mind your love and mercies. Renew in them a confidence in your goodness. Help them to hope in you. Show them your faithfulness, O Lord, even today! Amen.
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.